Styrofoam task force raises eyebrows

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HILO — A resolution to create a packaging waste task force received mixed reviews Wednesday at a Hawaii County Council meeting two months after a proposed ban on polystyrene food containers was tossed in the trash.

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HILO — A resolution to create a packaging waste task force received mixed reviews Wednesday at a Hawaii County Council meeting two months after a proposed ban on polystyrene food containers was tossed in the trash.

Puna Councilman Danny Paleka, a swing vote against the failed Styrofoam ban, proposed forming the group that would include himself, Council Chairman Dru Kanuha, who also voted against the ban, and more than a dozen business, environmental and government representatives.

The resolution, which will be voted on at the council’s Aug. 17 meeting, would direct the task force to find ways to increase the use of environmentally friendly “products and packaging.”

“I wanted to bring the different perspectives together at one table,” said Paleka, who wore a green suit and tie to the meeting.

But some testifiers who supported banning Styrofoam food containers because of environmental concerns remained skeptical of the motivation behind the resolution, which bypassed committee, during an election year. They questioned why it only included two environmental group representatives and left out a key figure in the recent Styrofoam debate — Kohala Councilwoman Margaret Wille.

“It could become a pro-Styrofoam group headed by pro-Styrofoam council reps,” said Janice Palma-Glennie of the Surfrider Foundation, who asked it to be voted down or tabled.

Wille, along with a few colleagues, also found it odd that her name was missing.

“Maybe you two had an epiphany,” Wille said, referring to Paleka’s and Kanuha’s no votes.

“I wish I had all that trust.”

Paleka voted for the Styrofoam ban in committee but later switched to no, leaving the council deadlocked 4-4. Kanuha, who voted no in committee, was absent for the final vote.

Asked why Kanuha and not Wille, who proposed the Styrofoam ban, was given a spot on the proposed task force, Paleka said he thought it was right to offer it to the council chair.

“I think it’s pretty balanced,” he said of the list. “I see myself as neutral.”

While it’s not likely the group will propose another Styrofoam ban, Paleka said he wouldn’t leave it off the table. He said he prefers creating incentives for businesses to reduce waste or switch to compostable packaging rather than banning products.

Wille said she will propose an amendment to add herself and more representatives from environmental groups.

Paleka said he was open to the idea but didn’t commit to adding the Kohala councilwoman.

John Elkjer, owner of Sustainable Island Products and proposed member of the task force, agreed that the resolution is not perfect but said he would like to see the council move forward.

“I commend all of you, especially Margaret,” he told the council. “You started this whole thing with Bill 140. Get the politics aside, and go on with it.”

Some testifiers and council members also questioned whether such a large group will get anything done by the end of this council term in December, as called for in the resolution. A one-year extension could be approved by resolution.

Paleka said he was confident that it would be productive.

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“I had many people in my life tell me you no can,” he said. “I love that because I proved those all wrong, and I’m going to prove them wrong again.”

Email Tom Callis at tcallis@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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